12 Things to Watch in Sunday's Colts-Dolphins Game
Whoever came up with this did a better job than the dude who designed the actual Dolphins logo.
Last week, the Colts survived for another comeback win over the Raiders. In Week 2, they attempt to open the season at 2-0 by taking on a evenly matched middle-of-the-pack AFC team. As the Miami Dolphins swim into the Luke, here's what to keep an eye on...
1. Watch for the tie breaker. Last year, the moment we knew the Colts could be taken seriously as playoff contenders was when Andrew Luck went nuts on Miami, and the Colts escaped with a narrow win. A year later, each of these teams is once again trying to make a statement that it deserves a wild-card spot or better in the playoffs. The one who wins will have the upper hand all season in the tie breaker. Week 2 games don't get bigger than this. The Colts have a narrow path to the post season, and it's hard to see them plotting a course that doesn't involve beating Miami.
2. Watch the guy just trying to fit in. When we talk about the epic quarterback class of 2012, two guys don't quite fit in. It's pretty safe to say that Brandon Weeden is terrible and a bad pick. Ryan Tannehill, on the other hand, has more of the middle-class look to him. If he wants included in the conversation with Luck, Griffin and Wilson, he needs to lead his team to victory Sunday. I've been accused of judging quarterbacks too quickly (Gabbert, cough), but that only happens when there's something clear to judge. We don't know what Tannehill is yet, but a good game against the Colts could help establish him in the top tier. Or you know, his career is over, and he'll suck forever. It has to be one or the other.
3. Watch the snap counts. Bob Kravitz raised the issue of T.Y. Hilton's snap counts, and he's absolutely right. Granted, most of us have been talking about this for four or five months. Stanley Havili should not be on field more often than Hilton. Does it require more explanation? If you have to take passing weapons off the field in order to run the ball, how does that equal a balanced offense? Fullbacks are relics of the past, and I see no reason to have one on the roster, but if you must, it should be for limited application.
4. Watch what's not the problem. Having ranted about fullbacks, it's important to note the Indy offense was awesome against Oakland. Yes, awesome. The perception that the offense sputtered is simply not accurate. Indy crossed the 50 on five of seven possessions. There were two abortive drives in the second quarter, but both third-quarter drives were solid. One was undone by a penalty across midfield, and the other failed on fourth down. They had two three-and-outs and scored three touchdowns in just seven touches. They finished the week fourth in DVOA, second in yards per drive, second in points per drive and first in drive success rate. There was not a blessed thing wrong with the Indy offense last week. No, I don't like the philosophy of the offense, but I've been griping about that for months. The actual performance against Oakland was top shelf.
5. Watch what is. The defense was terrible. Flip those stats above: 20th in DVOA, last in yards per drive, 21st in points per drive, 31st in drive success rate. The only reason the Colts' performance against Oakland felt disappointing was the defense couldn't generate a pass rush and got pushed all over the field. Yes, they only allowed 17 points, but a missed field goal and two interceptions near the goal line saved 17 more points. There isn't much evidence the defense improved from last year. The Colts wanted run stoppers instead of pass rushers. They got what they asked for. Now we'll see if a defense built that way can win consistently in the NFL. I have my doubts.
6. Watch the quiet improvement. How good did the special teams look against Oakland? Other than a shank by Pat McAfee, the special teams play was outstanding. The Colts covered kickoffs effectively for the first time since, uh, whenever. Granted, it takes more than one game to establish a trend, but considering how bad they looked in the preseason, it's encouraging to think Indy may actually be accumulating back of the roster talent. Now if they would only stop accumulating that talent to start at guard.
7. Watch for the douche dolphin logo. For years, Miami had one of the most interesting logos in football. Replete with an angry dolphin with a football helmet with an 'M' on it, the Dolphins logo was good enough for Larry Czonka and Danny Marino alike. Now, it has been replaced with sort of a glam Flipper leaping dispassionately into the warm gulf air. It's sort of a douche dolphin. You can tell he doesn't give a flip. He's like, "Yeah, we used our first round pick on Ryan Tannehill. What of it, bro? I'm a dolphin. Who cares?". I freaking hate that dolphin. What's with you, Dolphin? You too good to wear a helmet? Hope you get a concussion, Dolphin. Who has Lisa Frank design their logo anyway?
8. Watch Wallace and Davis. Mike Wallace is an odd, petulant player, but one of the best deep threats in football. Vontae Davis will have to play his best game to contain him, because Miami will have time to throw. Davis wants to play well against his former mates, but the odds are he is going to give up a bomb or two to Wallace. He has every time they've faced each other.
9. Watch the weak strength. Tight end was supposed to be the real backbone of the Indy offense, but with Dwayne Allen constantly battling injuries and Coby Fleener looking eager for an early start on his writing career, there has to be at least a touch of concern. Fleener has looked confused ever since suffering a concussion in the preseason. He looks lost on routes, formations and he and Luck are not in sync. Allen plays great, but only when he's actually on the field. The Colts need these two players to play and play well if they are going to continue winning in 2013.
10. Watch for the demand. Jim Irsay DEMANDS more protection for Luck. Well, by gum, if he demands it, I'm sure the Colts will comply. After all, Mr. Irsay demanded more in the preseason and his players and coaches delivered a rousing performance in New York which will be sung of by local troubadours for many a long age to come. Now, he demands backs, tight ends and I think coaches protect his quarterback. Pep Hamilton has responded by drawing up a play that calls for three tight ends and two fullbacks to encase Luck in bubble wrap before dumping off to a safety valve. Other demands by Mr. Irsay include more points, extra "defensers", an artifact from Roswell and according to sources, "a nap".
11. Watch the red flags. The two guys tasked with 'replacing' Dwight Freeney combined for two of the most abysmal performances of Week 1. Erik Walden was exactly as advertised. He generated no pass rush and could not come close to "setting the edge". Granted, that was never a skill he possessed in Green Bay (despite Ryan Grigson's assertions), and he certainly didn't do it against Oakland. Bjoern Werner is less troubling, because everyone knew he'd be a three-year project. Still, his performance was equally problematic. Having OLBs opposite of Robert Mathis who bring nothing to the table is an issue. Both players have to do more in Week 2, or Tannehill will carve up the Colts. Miami's line isn't great, so the Colts have no excuse but to generate pressure.
12. Watch for a replay. Last year's victory at home over Miami was one of the best games of the year, and perhaps one of the four or five best games ever played by a quarterback in Indianapolis. Watch for Indy to follow the same script and edge out the Dolphins again 27-24.
Hilton's snap count did nothing but infuriate me. Maybe Ballard's absence increases that number?
Loved #8 just because of the phrase "Wallace and Davis." Not sure if it was an intentional White Christmas reference or not, but appreciated it either way.
Would be so nice to beat the Dolphins. Surrounded by them both on the land and in the sea (and gulf). Honestly though, the Dolphins don't irk me. I really wish they would keep the Patriots out of the playoffs.
Great writing, Nate. Love reading articles on this site. I know, I'm like a little girl, beaming and gushing over the writing, but it needs to be said.
Remember, I predicted "trap game" for the Raiders, and I was RIGHT! Yessssss! Though it doesn't feel good to be right.
For this one, I predict a blowout. Colts over Dolphins, 31-7.
Apropos of nothing, I just came across this great site featuring dozens of bad facial expressions from Philip Rivers. "Sarcastic jerk face" (in classic black and white!) is my mental default picture of him. http://philipriversface.blogspot.com/ hopefully they'll add a few more after the Colts beat SD on 10/14.
"Indy offense was awesome against Oakland" I donno. I think I need a little more convincing. I'll grant that it was efficient, but awesome? Perhaps I am confusing offensive style with actual results. One thing that really concerned me was the lethargic speed at which it moved. Yes it was very efficient. However, it really doesn't seem designed to score points quickly or score a lot. If the Colts had a great defense I wouldn't be worried, but with the one they have I'm very concerned that the offense won't be able to score quickly enough to stay in the game regardless of how efficient they are.
I'm sorry but the protection of Luck is paramount. Weeden was hit 16 times and sack 6. No quarterback can service that. The question is can the Colts contain the Miami pass rush? I think Wallace is overrated. same score as last week Colts 17-14 I hope. The Colts are still two years away.
Arrrgh! Ballard done for the season? I did not see that one coming. Bradshaw, yes. Brown, yes. Ballard? (what are we, the teens version of Miami's Killer B's from the 80s?) Not so much. At least it's early in 2013 so he should be up to speed by this time next year, depending on how severe it is. Not like those December/January knee injuries that "nobody" recovers from in time....
In other news, about 25 of my last 30 tweets in my timeline have been a variation of "Ballard out for season on IR with knee injury"
Think I follow enough Colts-related sportwriters?
Pursuant to #11, I am certainly glad we didn't even extend Freeney an offer. He clearly showed on Monday that he is washed up and can't even take it to a lowly skilled LT like Duane Brown. He's washed up. He could never thrive in a 3-4 scheme like the one they have in SD. Even if he did, it's not like the SD defensive scheme and the one the Colts run are related.
#10 may be your greatest paragraph ever.
(And I refuse to accept Wormtongue Kravitz being absolutely right about anything. Even when he is.)
@Bobman1 That is great. My favorite is the "Staring contest. Go".
@Bobman1 Nice!!! My favorite is "how hard is it to catch a terribly thrown ball??"
@hankster There were moments where they did hurry up, and they were awesome. Right before the Allen TD, they sped up the pace and it was cool. Then they slowed back down.
I agree about the style. The results, however, were pretty hard to debate.
I think the offense is like a Porsche being driven in a residential neighborhood.
The gear is there. When they need it, it'll fly.
@silentkman Weeden isn't Luck. He's a statue. Oline play is vastly overrated. Luck beat Miami last year with no protection to speak of.
@Bobman1 Yeah! What the heck happened? Was there a Dolphins sniper in the rafters or something?
@Payton I'm so glad this was you saying this. Though, you still nearly had me fooled up to "lowly skilled LT like Duane Brown." Damn, we need a sarcasm font.
@Payton and /sarcasm font.
@DougEngland Agreed. #10 is epic, Nate. Now I´m picturing Irsay on a throne, gesticulating wildly and demanding better jesters, because none of them are as mad, entertaining and quixotic as him.
@DougEngland Well, broken clock and all that... the thing that bugs me about that guy is that he's only right when it's convenient for criticism. Otherwise, he goes out of his way to be contradictory just for the sake of being contradictory, and damn any concept of right or wrong.
Yes, yes, everyone. I *know* he's an opinion columnist. I *KNOW* his job is not to report, but to provide points of view. That's not my argument, so anyone who thinks of it shouldn't go in that direction. My argument is that the BEST of opinion columnists shed light, not heat. They illuminate, they don't set things on fire. By that standard, Kravtiz heads in the total other direction.
You can be controversial yet still be informative. Or you can rest in easy arguments, however mistaken, and faulty yet widely accepted logic and be a firebrand. It's the fact that he indulges in the latter that makes me not respect him. Regardless of when he's right. When he is, it's not out of habit or effort.
@DougEngland He's just making a point many of us have been making for months.
@Nate Dunlevy @silentkman That is so funny about the Oline. ask Ryan Grigson about the Oline. Weedan was sacked 36 times vs Luck 41. Weedan was hit 83 times and Luck 116 last year. The point is at this rate Weedan will be hit 256 times this year. The Colts can't survived if Luck is out. I think the team will be much better than the 2011 team if the doomsday scenario occurs. You guys are expecting too much from a team that has been completely turned over.
Operation Patience. (i know I stole it)
@DougEngland It's more fun to wind people up and let them reach the realization themselves.
@AJ_ Real reason that's out for now is the podcast and #TheWorst Column. That's three things a week, plus game day. All I can handle.
@AJ_ Offseason. I promise.
Yes, but you articulated exactly why it doesn't matter. Luck was hit more, sacked more and the Colts won more. Pass rush wasn't the key issue last year and it won't be this year. You can't protect the quarterback. Your best bet is to get your QB to make quick decisions.
The only guy who can protect the QB is the QB himself.
If the Colts lost Luck, they'd win one or two games at the most, but they could lose him in a million different ways.
Oline play is not the key to avoiding sacks. We saw this with Manning. His line was dog crap from 2008-2010, and he still played MVP-level football.
The key to staying upright in the NFL is quick decision making. Luck has to get rid of the ball faster.
@Payton @DougEngland I WAS about to say I thought he brought good pressure. What the cameras missed was that during special teams play, he was sacking the hell out of Rivers on the sideline, which explains how that game ended.... I was torn between relishing another SD meltdown and seeing the Texans lose. Damn! Couldn't both have happened?
@Nate Dunlevy Oh, I know there are reasons. It's no biggie. Besides, I *really* just wanted to write "CAT Wee Bag". ;)